Titanic casualties, stories ‘buried’ at Woodlawn

Cemetery provides grave tours on the upcoming anniversary of ship sinking


The pride of the British White Star Line left England on Wednesday, April 10, 1912 with 2,228 passengers and crew intent on finding her way to New York City five days later. However, on April 14  she struck an iceberg and found her final destination in the middle of the Atlantic leaving more than 1,500 dead.

And now 111 years later, there are 11 “Titanic people” and their stories resting at Woodlawn, said Susan Olsen, the director of historical services during a recent tour. “Woodlawn was the place to be — and still is.” In total, there are 14 graves associated with the Titanic, including three people connected to that fateful day.

Olsen explained during that time the cemetery attracted wealthy people. Most of the Titanic passengers  buried there  were first-class passengers.

Those included victims, survivors who died later and people who dedicated their work to Titanic. Woodlawn contains the most people connected with the ship in the United States. “Our friends in Brooklyn, Green-Wood have a few but not as many as us,” Olsen said.

But Titanic is not about the sinking ship. It is about the stories of the people inside it and afterward who dedicated their work to piece of history.

Olsen will give tours of Woodlawn’s relationship to the Titanic’s notable passengers and share their stories and people who became indirectly involved with the sinking.

Some passengers self-sacrificed, helped others and boarded because they were a woman or because of their wealth. Henry Sleeper Harper, a publisher, is known for bringing his dog onto a lifeboat.

“It was only a little tiny Pekinese, but he was heavily criticized,” she said.


Description of the tour

The tour begins with a presentation on the “little known and new facts to ponder about R.M.S Titanic.” Following that will be the trolley tour given by Olsen.

While the trolley goes to each grave, photographs of the individuals will be presented on a  screen with music. Guests will also be supplied with a pamphlet written by Joseph Edgette in 2012.

Edgette was the chair of the cemeteries and grave markers area of the American Culture Association.

He was an expert in studying graves, especially learning about Titanic passengers. He died two years ago, but he first organized the tour several years ago.

On board Titanic, Edgette wrote in the tour pamphlet, there were only 16 wooden and four “collapsible” lifeboats on board with the ability to hold 1,776 souls. There were more than 300 whose remains were recovered floating in the icy waters, and more than 100 were lost at sea.

Olsen said Edgette studied graves for the language and art.

Olsen’s “thing” was studying celebrity graves. She would go around the country and photograph graves of famous people.

During the visit, she would see what fans left behind for them. But eventually, she changed paths to study Woodlawn graves — including Titanic. 

However, she never stops researching the Titanic people buried at Woodlawn. Most of the buried passengers were upper class.

“It’s an interesting hobby,” she said.

“It’s an interesting pursuit and it is important because just like with the Titanic, folks can go see an exhibit or whatever, but you can remember them by coming to Woodlawn, and that’s where you started the individual stories.”

“Do you want to remember them as a wonderful mother? Or would you want to remember them as — it’s just how they died, which is really interesting about gravestones.”

With Titanic, some of Woodlawn’s graves say, “Lost his life on the S.S. Titanic,” reads on the tombstone of Charles H. Chapman, a second-class passenger who was found at sea and was called a “floater.”

While other stones, such as Arthur Ernest Nicholson, say, “Died April 15, 1912” on , a first-class passenger who lost his life on a tragic night and was the 263rd body to be recovered. Rather than sending his body to England, his sister arranged for his burial at Woodlawn.

Archibald Gracie IV was a first-class passenger and, on his tombstone, engraved “hero of S.S. Titanic,” which was lauded by many of the survivors that he helped board the lifeboats.

On the tour pamphlet says eyewitnesses  recall him saying, “We must get them into the lifeboats. We must get them all in the lifeboats.”

After the incident, while he survived he did not forget about the sinking. He interviewed several survivors and published his own book called “The Truth About Titanic”. However, he died less than a year later. The cause of death was diabetes at 54.


Family reactions

How did the families react to the tragedy?

“How did the Straus sons react,” Olsen asks. Two notable victims were Isador Straus, co-owner of Macy’s retail shopping giant and former U.S. representative, and his wife Ida Strauss.

Before they died, Isidor decided against joining his wife on the lifeboat.Isidor’s decision made his wife follow his lead and both made the ultimate sacrifice. That’s when she uttered her famous quote, “I go where you go.”

“The thought of the Strauss sons having to identify their father’s body was pretty intense,” Olsen continued. She described how their sons thought they were being taken to see their father alive in Halifax, Nova Scotia, only to discover they were there to identify his body.

Across from their mausoleum is a statue that mystifies researchers It’s called the Bliss monument, named after Anna Barnes Bliss. She was know to be greatly interested in the sinking of the Titanic even though she did not travel on the ship.

The stone is of amale and female couple standing together as if the wind is blowing in their direction as her dress drags. Olsen said once in a while, someone will ask if it is Jack and Rose by director James Cameron’s “Titanic” movie. But it remains a mystery and a fun thing to think about.

“What makes this tour special is all these people that are interested in the Titanic, we posted it and it was filled like the next day,” Olsen said. “These people love these stories and most of them know more than I know, really — that’s what makes the trolley tour great is the interaction between us and them”

Titanic, Susan Olsen, Woodlawn Cemetery, survivors, Irving Berlin, Anna Barnes Bliss, Isidor Straus, Ida Straus, Macy's, sinking, ship